Gamba Osaka 1 : 0 Avispa Fukuoka
It would be very nice if one of these weeks I can finish watching the game and not have my main memory of the game being the action of the referee. After having one of our players kicked in the head by an angry opposing Captain last week only for nothing to happen, this week the referee stopped the game with the ball in the Gamba penalty box after 3 minutes of the 4 which he had signaled.
It was a shame as the game had generally been quite good to watch, with Avispa coming out on the offensive and trying to drive Gamba back, rather than come and try to defend a 0:0 draw. There will be few teams this season which come to Osaka and have more shots on target than the home team, but that is what we achieved today and were never out of the game.
Pusnik had made a surprise move by having both his first year scholars (Mishima and Kanamori) playing as full-backs, positions which I can’t have imagined anyone would have imagined they would be doing at the start of the season.
Having seen players like Yoshihara (who was also in the Japan U-20 team during his time here), Son, Oyama, come and go without ever being given a chance to play it is so encouraging to see youngsters continuing to be given chances to prove their worth, and take those chances.
For people who have followed Avispa closely it shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise to see a formation like this. The team and philosophy which Pusnik is building is going to need ball-playing full-backs to come and support the midfield 3, with an anchor midfielder providing the pivot for attacks with men then available. What was a surprise is that it came so early.
The players currently available are not perfect for this strategy (due largely in part to be signed before Pusnik had come to the club and started his plan I guess), but in the 2 young players he has an almost blank canvas to mould into the players he needs.
Coming up against Gamba we were always going to need to do something a little different (Endo and Konno alone probably collect a higher wage than our entire squad), so it looks like he got brave with his plan and gave it a shot. It nearly paid off.
Avispa came the width of the post away from opening the scoring after tidy midfield work set Sakata free on the left side of the penalty area where he picked out Kanakubo on the edge of the box to try and curl a shot into the far corner. The keeper parried the ball straight to an onrushing Jogo who put his first time shot into the side netting, the sort of chance I’ve seen him bury time and again over the last 4-5 seasons.
At the other end there were obvious gaps in the full-back spots, firstly seeing a ball played in from the right where Funayama stopped what looked like a certain goal by Rocha with a great last ditch tackle, and then in the left-back position where Usami could pick out Rocha in space after a characteristic direct run, only for Rocha to attempt a shot which would have broken the net but only saw his shot go into the next prefecture.
The warning shots had been fired and a goal did then come from the right wing as Kanamori was caught way up field trying to intercept the initial pass (good work by a left winger, but over-commitment for a full-back) while motioning for Nakahara to follow his runner, Omori. Nakahara missed the pass and left time and space for the Gamba midfielder to pick out Rocha in the middle of the box who has the aerial ability to pick his spot with chances like that.
Avispa didn’t drop their heads and continued to try and attack. There attacks were following a similar pattern of getting to the edge of the box where Ishizu, Sakata or Kanakubo would fire a shot towards the top corner, but were as often as not being crowded out of pitch as Gamba comitted men back into their box.
We have lots of players who are capable of getting the ball on the floor and running into space towards goal but they seem to be over-playing their passing at times and allowing defences time to get back and organise.
Ishizu did manage to hit a shot across goal which took a slight touch from the keeper and clipped the outside of the post, but while Gamba always had a clear threat in the penalty box we do look to be missing a #9 like Rocha at the other end.
We continued to attack in the second half, and Ishizu came closest to opening the scoring again as he smashed a shot against the bar after a nice triangular move involving Kanakubo and Funayama. At the point it seemed like luck might not be on our side today.
Sakata was still putting himself about, but along with Jogo he might look back on this game as one where his first touch deserted him at times.
Gamba had chances to extend their lead at the other end, but Tsutsumi and especially Park were doing a good job of containing Usami. He continued to make tricky runs into the box, but coming up against our central defenders he was generally coming off second best. In the one time when he did get free in front of goal after a Rocha through pass he pulled his shot wide of the post.
The last time I’d seen him he was the best player I’d seen in the J-League and was absolutely sure he’d be the next Japanese player to do well in Europe, after today’s performance I know why he didn’t. While he was still one of the better players on the pitch he was quarter the player he was in 2011 and looks like he thought that at 19 he didn7t need to improve much further.
The young full-backs came into the game more as we pushed forward in search of the equaliser, and Ushinohama had a neat little cameo after coming on and not giving the ball away, but the Gamaba team were too well-organised and too experienced to crumble in face of our attacks.
It was a very good performance, but as with the Kyoto game, and the first half with Verdy, it has got us no points. The team should still look at it as a positive, if we played like today against most teams in the division we’d win quite easily.
My Man of the Match – Kanakubo Jun
While lots of the Avispa players felt their touch desert them a bit in face of the stars at Gamba Jun looked composed and more than matched them with his trickery and attacking play.
Rarely gave the ball away despite playing a tight passing game and could have scored on another day.